Super PACs now a force in the presidential race

AP Photo
AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt

NEW YORK (AP) -- The special political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited campaign money while operating independently of candidates have jumped into the presidential contest with an unmistakable message: Game on.

A super PAC supporting Mitt Romney is out with a hard-hitting ad against Newt Gingrich. Another has run ads for weeks for Rick Perry. Spending by a super PAC in New Hampshire may be the only thing keeping Jon Huntsman's struggling campaign afloat.

Nearly two years after the Supreme Court eased restrictions on corporate money in political campaigns, super PACs have become a major force in the presidential contest. They can attack or support individual candidates as long as they don't coordinate directly with the campaigns themselves.

Conservative-leaning groups spent millions to help Republicans wrest control of the House and pick up several Senate seats in 2010. The 2012 campaign is the first to test the groups' influence on presidential politics.

Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College who studies campaign finance, said super PACs are likely to outspend the candidates themselves in the early contests.

"They have substantial amounts of money, they can raise money quickly, and they have every incentive to spend it in the early states," Corrado said. "For a super PAC supporting a particular candidate, now is the time to spend money. It doesn't do any good to wait until April."

Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is set to start running a harsh attack on Gingrich as part of an enormous, $3.1 million advertising buy in Iowa less than four weeks before the state's kickoff caucuses.

The 60-second ad says Gingrich's "baggage," including $1.6 million he took in fees from the mortgage company Freddie Mac before the 2008 housing meltdown, would make him an easy target for President Barack Obama in the general election.

Make Us Great Again, which backs Perry, has spent more than $2 million on ads over several weeks in Iowa, supplementing the campaign's own substantial advertising buy there. The group has also run ads supporting Perry in South Carolina.

The pro-Perry spending hasn't helped the Texas governor much. He still lags badly in Iowa, trailing Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul in recent polls.

The pro-Huntsman Our Destiny PAC has spent about $1.3 million in New Hampshire. They've been the only TV ads airing that support the former Utah governor, whose cash-strapped campaign has lacked the money to run its own ads.

The pro-Romney PAC started soft.

Restore Our Future's first ad, which debuted Thursday, goes after Obama while stressing Romney's background as a governor and successful businessman. But the new, negative ad aims to slow Gingrich's surging momentum in Iowa and elsewhere.

(more of the article)

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